For Old Time's Sake, Man!

Published March 30, 2012

If you were born in the Sixties, like I was, it’s a good chance that you'll remember the song ‘Hello, This Is Joannie’, which was a hit in 1978. And if you’re an Elvis fan, like I am, you might be familiar with songs such as ‘I Gotta Know’, which was the B-side of ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ but also a hit in its own right, and ‘The Next Step Is Love’, a classic song recorded in 1970. And if you’re a fan of John Waters, which I am, you may be familiar with the movie Pecker, which featured a 1960 hit entitled ‘Happy-Go-Lucky-Me’ on its soundtrack.

So, what has all this got to do with ABBA? Well, all the above songs were written and/or recorded by American singer Paul Evans, and are just a random selection of his many accomplishments. And what, exactly, does he have to do with ABBA? Well, as regular readers of this blog will be aware, I’ve run a little series of “pre-ABBA songs by Andersson & Ulvaeus recorded by prominent international artists”. First there was Lonnie Donegan’s recording of ‘I Lost My Heart On The 5.42’, and then there was Andy Williams’ version of ‘If We Only Had The Time’. To tell you the truth, though, I had sort of given up on stumbling across any more such examples.

However, a couple of weeks ago I was going through some old cuttings when I was reminded of a statement made by Björn and Benny in a 1972 interview. They talked about their 1970 hit ‘Hej gamle man!’ (“Hey, Old Man!”) and mentioned that it had been recorded by “some country guy” in America. Well, did you think I was going to be satisfied with that tiny morsel of information? Of course not! I contacted a friend at Universal Music Publishing who informed me that the “country guy” in question was Paul Evans, that the English lyrics were written by Evans in collaboration with Paul Parnes, that their version was entitled ‘For Old Time’s Sake’, and that the song was released as the B-side of Paul Evans' single ‘Think Summer’ on Laurie Records in 1971.

I quickly realised that the song wasn’t available on CD, but fortunately I found a copy of the single on eBay. But what was the back story of the song? Contrary to the present-day situation, Swedish pop songs were not high currency in the international music business in the early Seventies, so I was curious how the recording came about. Of course, knowing that Stig Anderson made every effort to have Andersson/Ulvaeus songs published and recorded by foreign artists, I had a hunch how it may have come about. Paul Evans himself was kind enough to fill in the blanks. “[Music publisher] Stanley Mills (September Music) got the American rights from Stig at a MIDEM convention and asked Paul Parnes and I to write the English lyric,” Evans wrote in an e-mail. “I recorded the song for Laurie Records. Of course, at the time I had no idea who Benny and Björn were (or were going to be).”

Naturally, as the B-side of a single that was not a hit (as far as I’ve been able to ascertain), the song probably didn’t make much of an impression at the time. The British release of the single on the London label in 1971 also failed to chart. But now, more than four decades later, ‘For Old Time’s Sake’ has one definite claim to historical fame: as far as I can tell, it’s the earliest recording of an Andersson/Ulvaeus song by an American or British artist – it might even be the earliest non-Scandinavian recording for all I know. Please feel free to correct me if some cover version of ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’ or ‘A Flower In My Garden’ has slipped my mind!

Click here to listen to Paul Evans’ recording of ‘For Old Time’s Sake’. It’s a bit different to the original in that it cuts the number of verses in half: instead of two verses before each chorus, Evans and Parnes obviously felt one was quite enough, and placed all their bets on the catchy chorus (except towards the end of the song, where there are indeed two verses before the last chorus).

“I know that Stanley wouldn't have taken the song nor would Paul Parnes and I have agreed to write the lyrics if we didn't love it,” Paul Evans concludes. “I guess we were all good talent spotters.”

Click here to visit the official Paul Evans site.


People Need ABBA

Published March 28, 2012

Let me start with two clichés: Has it really been 40 years? And: if so, how old does that make me? Much as I would love to think otherwise, the brutal truth is that it really is true: on Thursday, March 29, 2012, it’s exactly 40 years since ABBA started recording their very first single: ‘People Need Love’. I was seven years old when the single was released (so now you can do the maths and figure out exactly how old I am), and vividly remember the first time I heard it.

In the summer of 1972, my family rented a house on the island of Åland, which is situated between Sweden and Finland. It was close enough to Sweden that you could listen to Swedish radio there, and I was eager to tune in to the radio chart show, Tio i topp (The Top Ten). An immensely popular show broadcast on Saturday afternoons, it existed between 1961 and 1974 and featured a chart based on votes, consisting primarily of English-language rock and pop music.

If you loved pop music, which I did, you didn’t want to miss that show. So that Saturday afternoon in July 1972 would have been my first encounter with ABBA. I do remember being excited about the tune and really liking it, in that absolutely unneurotic and unrestricted way you do as a child, not worrying if it was “cool” but just responding to the melody, the production and the energetic performance. However, I didn’t become a major fan of the group at the time. My first ABBA single was the English version of ‘Ring Ring’ in 1973, and then I didn’t buy an ABBA record again until ‘The Winner Takes It All’. But it seemed ABBA were doing fine without my support.

And now, here we are, exactly 40 years after the story began, still listening to ABBA’s music. Not, however, so much to ‘People Need Love’, if we’re talking about the general public. The song is not on ABBA Gold and didn’t even make it onto More Gold – none of these compilations feature any tracks from the Ring Ring album (ABBA’s first), except for the title track – so today, it’s not as readily available to the casual fan. It’s somehow a pity that this song has become so obscure, although I can see why: it does seem to belong in the very early Seventies, and doesn’t bear many traces of what was to come in terms of more sophisticated ABBA recordings such as ‘Dancing Queen’ or ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Still, I have a large space in my heart for these slightly naïve, but charming and zestful early ABBA recordings. So here’s to ‘People Need Love’ and ABBA’s 40th Anniversary!

If you want to know more about how the song came to be, click here to read my In Focus essay about ‘People Need Love’, originally published on The Official ABBA Site in 2003. The site is currently down for maintenance, so I’m offering the text here as a no-frills pdf file.


Just like this or just like that?

Published March 14, 2012

Airborne pigs were recently spotted in the vicinity of central Stockholm. Who’d ever thought that we’d see any further releases of previously unavailable ABBA recordings? But with the upcoming The Visitors Deluxe Edition, this is exactly what’s happened. Benny Andersson took some demos and discarded attempts at recording the album’s closing track, ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, and strung them together in a 9-minute medley entitled ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel (demos)’. Naturally, ABBA fans were thrilled with this news, but many also wondered: If ABBA can authorise the release of a bunch of demos, why won’t they release the holy grail of all unreleased ABBA tracks, ‘Just Like That’? It was recorded in 1982, during the aborted sessions for what was projected as ABBA’s ninth studio album, and so it would have been a perfect fit among the other bonus tracks on The Visitors Deluxe Edition, most of which cover ABBA’s final recording period.

The answer to that question is simply: It doesn’t work like that. On this very site, you will find listed a number of reasons why ‘Just Like That’ hasn’t been released, to which can be added the fact that Björn and Benny regard the recording as unfinished. “Unfinished?”, I hear you cry. “But it’s mixed and completed!” Yes, it is indeed mixed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it would ever have been released in this state back in the early 1980s. There are many instances where ABBA recorded a track, mixed it – and then decided that it wasn’t finished, went back to add and subtract instrumental and vocal parts, edited out sections of the recording, and then created a brand new mix.

But for all these various reasons, it all boils down to Björn and Benny’s feelings about ‘Just Like That’, and they simply don’t want to release it. There’s no use in arming yourself with “logical” arguments why they should release this, that or the other, along the lines of “if they’ve done this, surely they can do that!” Again, it doesn’t work like that. They are artists, and as such they can only judge by their own gut feelings whether something should be released or not – just like they’ve always done. I’m sure they would agree that, in retrospect, sometimes they’ve made the wrong decision, but that’s also their prerogative: it’s their music and so their feelings about it will guide their decisions at any given time.

Many fans have also wondered: “Why is the demo medley released now? Is there something bigger in the works? Does this mean that we will get more unreleased music from ABBA?” In the case of the demo medley, the idea came up through informal discussions between Björn, Benny and the record company. There was no big plan or strategy behind it – it just happened because the stars were aligned and all concerned felt it would be fun and interesting. So, in short: Don’t expect any further releases from the ABBA vaults in the future. It could happen, but then again it might not happen at all.

In the meantime, yesterday evening a programme was broadcast on Swedish television, proving that Benny is not completely averse to sometimes revealing some of ABBA’s recording secrets. I’m not sure if you will be able to view this outside Sweden, but in the latest episode in a series entitled "Låtarna som förändrade musiken" (The Songs That Changed Music), Benny was interviewed about the origins of "Ring Ring" – and he also sat down at the mixing desk to isolate some of the tracks of the original 16-track tape to let us hear individual parts. Click here to view the programme.